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Agency begins putting 'common table' plan into legislation

5/29/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By United Methodist News Service

A United Methodist agency is beginning work on legislation for creating a single "Connectional Table" of church leaders who would coordinate the denomination's work worldwide.

During three conference calls in May, members of the denomination's General Council on Ministries worked on details of their "Living Into the Future" proposal, outlining a vision for a global common table, where annual conferences, agencies and other entities would meet to guide the church's programs. A committee of the council is preparing legislation for the full group to consider in September. The proposal then would go to General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, next spring in Pittsburgh.

The document is still subject to revision, with the council's executive committee meeting July 9-10 in Detroit, "and final action on whatever legislation describes this proposal will not be taken until September," said Daniel K. Church, top staff executive of the Council on Ministries in Dayton, Ohio. The council coordinates the work of most of the denomination's agencies.

During a May 8 conference call, the council voted 24-6 to affirm the concept of the Connectional Table. The document itself was approved in parts during the three calls.

Members of the council spent considerable time discussing the composition of the common table, which would comprise about 100 people from a cross section of church roles and geographic areas. Concern about where the members would come from has spurred the development of an alternative proposal by church members in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, which has more United Methodists than any other U.S. area.

After the last conference call, Church said the number of people sitting at the table is a secondary issue. Most important, he said, is having "a conciliar setting where the ministries of the church and the resources of the church are brought together for discussion and decision-making by a group of faithful stewards who have a comprehensive, holistic view" of the general church. Such a table would bring the traditional functions of the Council on Ministries and the church's General Council on Finance and Administration to a common place, he said.

Under the proposal, the governing boards of both councils would be dissolved and their functions moved to the Connectional Table - an idea that was opposed by some Council on Ministries members. The remaining agencies would keep their boards, and 10 of them would have voice and vote at the table.

"It's a significant step in developing a holistic view, even though the governing boards are still expected to exist," Church said.

Ongoing work on the churchwide budget for 2005-08 could affect the ultimate proposal. At a May 19-22 meeting, the Council on Finance and Administration emphasized the importance of spending less on administering the denomination's programs. (See UMNS story #295, "Church finance agency seeks new level of efficiency," May 23.) The church is in a budget squeeze, and individual finance council members hinted at the possibility of realigning some of the general agencies - a move that would have a bearing on the "Living Into the Future" proposal.

The Council on Ministries' meeting in September will include joint sessions with the Council on Finance and Administration.

An updated draft of the proposal will be posted online soon at gcom-umc.org. "We will welcome comment and hope that people will be in dialogue with us," Church said.
Council representatives also will meet with General Conference delegations this summer to share the proposal and receive comments and questions.

During May, the council also approved by written ballot three initiatives for recommendation to General Conference as "special programs" for the church's 2005-08 period of work, subject to consultation with the Council of Bishops. Those programs are the Holistic Strategy for Africa, the Holistic Strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean and an initiative on Children, Poverty and Violence.

A special program, described in the church's Book of Discipline, is a four-year emphasis approved by General Conference and assigned to one of the denomination's agencies.

The council also approved a $230 million minimum for the World Service Fund to support the work of the denomination's program agencies in the next four-year period. That figure, along with the GCOM's operating budget, was presented to the church's Council on Finance and Administration during its May meeting.

Budget constraints have led to the Council on Ministries to cut its own staff this year. It laid off three of its 17 employees in May, though the laid-off workers agreed to continue at the agency until no later than Aug. 15.

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